By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
The people we are looking at in this series are going to be artists who have a direct connection to Dylan and his work or life. So they could be from his backing bands, friends from back in the day or even family members. The research and introductory commentary is by Aaron Galbraith in the USA with further comments added while listening to the recordings, by Tony Attwood in the UK.
Aaron: Thought I’d get back into the Dylan Adjacent series being inspired by watching the Echo In The Canyon movie on Netflix and listening back to the accompanying soundtrack this last week.
The film is hosted by Jakob Dylan as he explores the mid-60s Laurel Canyon music scene through candid interviews with those who were there at the time, including David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. The film is an absolute must see for anyone with even a passing interest in the music made by the bands and musicians who lived in the Canyon during that time.
A soundtrack album was produced, again led by Jakob (with help from contemporaries such as Beck, Cat Power, Norah Jones and Fiona Apple). Jakob and band cover songs from bands such as The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas And The Papas.
Here are a selection of tracks for Tony to ponder over:
Questions (originally by the Buffalo Springfield) – Jakob is joined here by guests Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills.
Tony: Ahhhhh – mention of Buffallo Springfield immediately brings back memories – and good ones too, particularly “For What It’s Worth”, one of my all time favourite songs, and I haven’t thought back to it for so many years. So simple and so incredibly effective and important. I owe you for just bringing back that memory Aaron. It is so central to the time it was written (1967 I seem to remember; I was just a youngster).
I must admit that “Questions” isn’t a song of theirs that I at first I remembered (but it was a long time ago!) but gradually it came back to me. Springfield took is more slowly and their sound was always more spacious. I am not saying that the song needs that spaciousness but that is what I got used. So maybe this recording and indeed this whole venture is for people who are quite a bit younger than me and don’t remember (one or the other, or maybe both!)
But as the song continued I warmed to it, although the composition does feel so strongly of the late 1960s that might be a disadvantage. Maybe those who weren’t there (even in their formative years) just simply don’t know the music of the age. But, the sound does get rather crowded near the fade out.
Aaron: I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times (originally by The Beach Boys) – Jakob is joined by special guest Neil Young.
Tony: Wow, what a change of sound. I wonder, did many of the people who bought the album listen to it track by track, with such variation of sound and approach. This isn’t a song I recall at all – but then I was never deeply into the Beach Boys but it sounds like one of their melodies.
The string quartet (I can’t tell if it is enhanced or just a pure quartet) combined with the electric instruments is interesting given the insistence of the “not being made for these times” repeated line. But no, not really my cup of whatnot.
Expecting To Fly (originally by the Buffalo Springfield) – Jakob with Regina Spektor.
Tony: Well, if nothing else this is really re-awakening my interest in Springfield, and next thing to be done after the morning’s correspondence will be to play an album or two. Oh goodness, how many songs have I forgotten over the decades!
This, I think, was actually not a Springfield song, but something Neil Young did with other musicians while he was still in the Springfield band so it came out under their name. Something like that.
Now I am going to go a trifle further here Aaron, and offer anyone interested the Neil Young (under the Springfield name) original.
OK, so why do I so much prefer the Springfield version? I think it is because the song has time and key changes (unusual for pop and rock) and Neil Young has the ability to pull that off perfectly, but I am sorry to say I don’t think young Mr Jakob does.
Indeed I guess this is part of my “never underestimate the astonishing musical insight and ability of Neil Young” campaign. Dylan and co have the same original and the sheer beauty of this astounding song comes through, but the final 10% somehow isn’t there. The changes sometimes feel a little forced – maybe that’s it. The production is sometimes slightly overdone. I would, Aaron, also refer readers back to your superb Neil Young plays Dylan piece. Along of course with his Neil’s astounding “Foot of Pride” rendition.
But back to the theme: this song is an astonishing master work of the rock genre, and this somehow doesn’t quite take me to the summit. Compare the last few seconds of each version, and maybe my stumbling words might make sense.
What’s Happening ?!?! (originally by The Byrds) – Jakob is joined by special guest Neil Young.
Tony: The interesting thing is that these are songs that by and large have unusual chord changes and which to work as music need to be behind a melody that fits perfectly, so that the chord changes are like a little additional seasoning on the overall meal.
Let me try this another way: although the Byrds do their musical asides with lots of overloaded guitar sounds in between the vocals, it somehow feels ok. Not my favourite way of doing things and not a track I’d choose to play over and over but somehow it flows effectively, and after a verse of two we get used to the way it works: a pattern of delicacy alternating with pain. But somehow in the new arrangement this is lost.
It is almost as if young Mr Dylan is paying so much attention to detail (which of course he is quite rightly doing) he forgets at the end of pay attention to the totality of the piece. It is like a meal where every ingredient is there. But added together they just don’t make a perfect meal.
Tony: Thanks Aaron. I’ve really puzzled over my responses and why I find some of the originals preferable. I am not sure I’ve expressed myself at all clearly, and it is not something I have thought of before, but that’s about as close as I can get.
Thanks for the challenge. I leave the article, still pondering and very much aware that I need a coffee to try and clear my thoughts.